5 Things You Need to Know About...David Surratt
A familiar face on the University of Oklahoma campus has returned to Norman as OU’s Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students.
David Surratt was officially hired by the OU Board of Regents in January. He brings with him 17 years of higher education experience with several colleges and institutions including the University of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania State University, St. Peter’s University, Rosemont College, and the University of California – Berkeley.
Surratt most recently served as the Assistant Vice Chancellor & Associate Dean of Students at UC Berkeley, and he had worked in various leadership roles there since 2013, including interim Dean of Students and interim Associate Vice Chancellor. In his previous role, he was responsible for a broad array of student affairs programs including residential life, LEAD Center (e.g. Greek Life, Student Organization Advising, and Student Leadership Programs), Recreational Sports, New Student Services, and the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC).
Prior to this role, he was the interim Associate Vice Chancellor at UC Berkeley where he managed housing, events and facilities, campus dining, Cal 1 Card Office, and the early childhood education program.
Surratt has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a Masters of Arts in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma, and a Doctorate of Education from George Washington University.
Get to know a bit more about our new Dean of Students in this month’s 5 Things You Need to Know About…David Surratt!
After earning your undergraduate and master’s degrees from OU, your doctoral degree from George Washington University, and making professional stops as a university administrator formerly at OU, as well as Pennsylvania State University, St. Peter’s University, Rosemont College and the University of California – Berkeley, you’re now back in Norman as vice president for student affairs and dean of students. What have your early thoughts been about returning to your alma mater? It has felt surreal to be back home to say the least. My education at both OU and GW, as well as my work experiences, has prepared me for a position as a chief student affairs officer but I never thought it would be at my alma mater. I'm grateful for the opportunity to do this work supporting educational access, retention, support and advocacy for students alongside our talented team in student affairs. While there are certainly challenges coming into such a complex environment, I have been thankful for the support from our students, my colleagues and President Gallogly.
You were recently on hand to see Professor Emeritus George Henderson and his wife, Barbara, honored by the OU College of Arts and Sciences for their contributions to the OU and Norman communities. Generations of students have been fortunate to have been taught and mentored by Henderson, professor and founder of the OU Human Relations program. Who are some of the people that most impacted your student experience at OU? There are certainly many people who influenced me and had an impact on my experience as a student and Dr. Henderson was definitely one of those people. He has an inspiring story as well as an intellect and disposition that is awe-inspiring. He was someone I got to know more personally as an upperclassman and graduate student and he remains a mentor to this day. It was such an honor to join him and his wife during the recent event hosted by Dean David Wrobel and the College of Arts and Sciences – his presence always gives me hope and inspiration. Another person who shaped my experience was actually my predecessor, Clarke Stroud. As a student, Clarke was seen by me and many of my peers as an advocate and supporter for all students. He has always been a person I’ve admired for his intelligence, wit, sense of humor and personality bigger than life and, as Dean of Students, he was always approachable and served as a consummate supporter. I honestly could write a lengthy chapter of other people who impacted my student experience, many of whom remain a part of my life and circle of friends, and I am eternally grateful for each and every one of them.
You returned to the University of Oklahoma at a time when campus tensions have run higher in light of recent racial incidents. A quote you recently referenced from James Baldwin reads, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” How would you encourage the university family to ensure the OU campus is one of inclusivity? My arrival to campus amid unrest added a complex layer to returning home. I’m actually very introverted and prefer opportunities to quietly engage with new communities and environments. Unfortunately, the recent racial incidents coinciding with me rejoining OU did not allow the quiet entry I wanted, particularly as the first vice president & dean of students of Black or Korean ethnic heritage at OU. However, I recognized that I had to think beyond my own comfort zones and model what we expect of our OU community – to be both brave and vulnerable and speak with both hope and honesty whenever possible. I’ve invoked Baldwin a few times (including my formal remarks to the regents at my confirmation) because Baldwin’s succinct critique of systems of oppression as an act of love is precisely what places like OU, and other universities across the country, must do to improve experiences for our students. Ultimately, I hope that my team and my colleagues will learn that inclusivity is the tool and not the destination we should use to create equitable college experiences toward completion of a degree and personal growth. Furthermore, I use the above quote to ensure we are all emboldened to publicly challenge ideas or systems that jeopardize students’ success and humanity.
You’ve had a chance to meet with numerous students and student groups. What are your early impressions of the student body at OU?
Our students are so much more than I can describe. They are determined, passionate, smart, humble, frustrating, loving, hilarious, powerful, and hopeful – they are wonderfully complex and a joy to learn from and support. The most poignant moment for me has been during some of my early conversations in which I shared my hopes with student leaders while also sharing my challenges and my fears. They have extended me grace and have been honest in sharing their expectations and I’m forever appreciative of their willingness to support me and my team. The potential of students is the reason I chose my career and that impression rings true with today’s OU student body, including all of our campuses in Norman, the Health Sciences Center and Tulsa.
You have a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. What are a few of the books that have caught your attention lately? Anything piling up on the nightstand?
Great question! My reading has been a bit more boring compared to the eclectic syllabi I had during my time as a student, but I try to indulge in getting lost in a book when I can. I’m in the middle of reading Boom Town by Sam Anderson at the moment – it’s an intriguing read about the founding of Oklahoma City and how unique and weird our state capital is. I also recently reread Dr. George Henderson’s memoir, Race and the University – a great reminder of where OU has been and how we can continue to change for the better through lessons learned from Dr. Henderson’s narrative. A third book I’m reading is Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education by Nathan D. Grawe – if interpreting demographic data trends and understanding impacts on college access and completion is your thing, check this out and nerd out with me. As for what’s peaking my interest next, I can’t wait for a chance to catch up on some graphic novel reading, including Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Rise #1 by my talented friend Don Aguillo, who authored and drew the artwork for his new novel published by Scout Comics. And last but not least, I’m hoping to read Becoming by Michelle Obama and My Beloved World by associate Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor this summer. I hope my reading balances with my even longer list of movies and Netflix shows I hope to catch up on some day too!